Bureaucracy

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The Devil’s Advocate

“...I thought we were the Popular Front?”


In which the curmudgeonly old sod puts the world to rights.

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Bureaucracy /bjʊəˈrɒkrəsi/ (n.)

1. A second-order derivative of the will to advancement. If we take it as a given that every factotum wants to “head up” something, and all factota need a path to chiefdom, then the best, easiest and most sustainable route to that is to create some new administrative function and put an factotum in charge of it. This is of course a form of pyramid scheme.

2. The will to entropy. It is axiomatic that no bureaucrat does what she does for personal vainglory, but purely out of a full-blooded and plausibly deniable commitment to the rigorous, orderly and fully auditable machination of human activity, and in the service of the vanquishment of mortal caprice. The bureaucrat’s art, like that of the graffitist, is of the spheres — a pure, ego-less submission to craft; a resounding cheer at the victory of form over substance.

There is a school of thought, of course, that governance is not the answer to the problem, but — as articulated — it is the problem. The bureaucrat’s art is to construct Rube Goldberg machines of four-dimensional policy and process within whose swim-lanes the meatware is expected to ply its trade as faultlessly as it is able. It is founded on the high-modernist conviction that an optimal commercial path can be solved — deduced, from first principles — and, were it not for inconstant flesh-sacks who keep buggering it up, could be achieved by the relentless, flawless, operation of corporate machinery. Any deviation from that optimal true path must be a result of human error.

The bureaucrat’s disposition is, therefore to restrain and control the subject matter expert’s autonomy, distrust her mastery and deny her purpose as far possible. For the bureaucrat, this is the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from irrefutable premises. This is the implication of dispassionate, logical, orderly progress.

Of course, there is a paradox here. For this is to strike, hard, at the will to pluralism, out of which the embrace of diversity arises. Yet corporate modernism embracesdiversity and inclusion” as one of its lodestars. But it is a standardised, commoditised, colour-coded, graded form of diversity: so homogenised as to be a perversion of the original meaning of the word “diversity”.

The will to disempowerment

Nietzsche would spin in his grave. Bureaucracy prevails over common sense, sound judgment and the instinct to be agile because it is an emergent state of a distributed network. It scales with size. Bureaucracy emerges through the operation of millions of micro-passive-aggressions, each of which is in itself innocuous, but whose effect in aggregate is colossal. Each arises from the perfectly reasonable instinct to socialise risk and build consensus. Each taken alone may appear prudent, pragmatic and even a smart way of getting to the desired end-goal.

See also